Reason for performing study: Saddle pads are widely used in riding sports but their influence on saddle pressures is poorly understood.
Objective: To evaluate the forces acting on the horse's back, and the eventual pressure distribution by using different saddle pads underneath a fitting saddle.
Methods: Sixteen sound horses of different breeds and ages were ridden on a treadmill at walk and sitting trot. The horses were wearing a dressage saddle with a fitting saddle tree and 4 different saddle pads (gel, leather, foam and reindeer fur) successively. For comparison, measurements were made without any saddle pad. Right forelimb motion was used to synchronise the pressure data with the stride cycles. A pressure mat was used under the saddle pad to collect the kinetic data. Maximum overall force (MOF) and the pressure distribution in longitudinal and transversal direction were calculated to identify differences between the measurements with and without saddle pads.
Results: A significant decrease in MOF was interpreted as improved saddle fit, and a significant increase as worsened saddle fit. Only the reindeer fur pad significantly decreased the MOF from 1005 N to 796 N at walk and from 1650 N to 1437 N at trot compared to without pad measurements. None of the saddle pads increased the MOF significantly when compared to the data without saddle pad. The pressure distribution in longitudinal and transversal direction was also improved significantly only by the reindeer fur pad at trot compared to no pad.
Conclusion: This study demonstrated that a well chosen saddle pad can reduce the load on the horse's back and therefore improve the suitability of a fitting saddle.